All In Your Name


Dear Dad,

I can’t believe that it’s been eleven years since we last saw you. Eleven years since anyone has called me “little girl”. Eleven long years without your unshakeable sense of what is right and what is wrong.

I wonder, often, what you’d make of us now.

I know that you would love your four beautiful great grandchildren. I know that you watch over them. You see them play, see them grow, see them laugh. I know that. But what about the rest of us?

You are in a better, more forgiving place now. Do you see our mistakes and our sorrows, and do you understand the frailties that have lead us here? Do you forgive us for where we find ourselves?

Dad, we’re doing our best to take care of Mom, just the way you asked us to. I remember you telling me that you didn’t want to leave “my girl” and asking me to make sure that we looked after her as tenderly as you always did.

We’re trying, Dad. And I think we’re doing OK. She’s safe and she’s well loved. And we all talk about you all the damn time!

What must you be thinking about the situation in our country right now? You have no idea how much I wish that I could hear your voice, weighing in on our anger and our fear and our broken and damaged country.

You fought for this country, when you were barely more than a child. What must you be thinking now?

I can only imagine, knowing your strict moral compass. I can only imagine.

Dad, I miss you. You’re here every day with me, smiling at my grandkids. I feel you over my shoulder as I refinish Paul’s old desk. I remember your lessons about sanding with the grain, and using my tack cloth.

I feel you when I am celebrate with my sons as they get ready to marry the women that they love so much. You’d be so proud of them, Dad.

And there are such funny things, too, in my memory of you. I can’t look at dominoes without thinking about you playing with the kids. I can’t drink bad red wine without hearing your laugh. Every time I try to draw a straight line on the paper schedule that we make for Mom each month, I hear you telling me to mark the top and bottom.

“Measure twice, cut once,” Paul says, repeating one your many lessons. “All things in moderation,” I said to a local farmer yesterday as I bought his beef and lamb, knowing that we’re supposed to be eating less meat. “All things in moderation, including moderation.” The farmer laughed, and so did I. I felt you standing right beside me, laughing with us.

Your lessons surround us, and guide us, even now.

Tonight I turned on some music. (It’s all on the computer now, Dad. So cool and so convenient! You’d be amazed and fascinated to see it.)

I was making pickles and drying herbs as the music played in the background.

And suddenly I heard a song called “All in Your Name” by a beautiful young songwriter and singer named Heather Maloney. And I couldn’t stop crying.

I guess that’s OK, huh? It’s OK to still grieve for you.

You were our hub. You were the anchor. We miss you so very much, every day. Without you, this world is just little less honest. A little bit less sure.

And so much less fun.

Roaring His Terrible Roar


Image by Andrea Jara S

When I started this blog, back in 2011, it was on the advice of my therapist. She was helping me to come to terms with my newly empty nest, and the loss of my mothering days.

My three kids had grown up, and had all moved out within two months of each other. I was a wreck. I mourned every day. I missed cooking for them. I fell apart in the grocery store just watching other mothers with their little ones.

The sight of a children’s book reduced me to sobs. In fact, I once had to run out of Toys R Us while trying to shop for a baby shower gift; I was in the book section and I stumbled upon “Love You Forever.”

I couldn’t hear certain songs without tears. I couldn’t make certain meals without tears.

It was ridiculous. But I couldn’t help it.

Gradually, I pulled myself together. I learned to enjoy the relative peace of the house and the time to reconnect with my husband. It got better. My kids grew into their lives but still touched base with us often.

And my daughter had babies.

That helped a whole big, fat boatload.

I became Nonni. I retired from teaching and began to spend my days, once again, rocking little ones, serving alphabet noodles, singing lullabies.

My equilibrium returned and all was well.

But, guess what?

Kids keep on growing. They keep on getting bigger and more independent. They change. They pull on her heartstrings at the most surprising times.

Last week I was putting little Johnny in for his nap. He loves books, and asked me to “read three books!” We were snuggled under the blanket, and my little two year old sweetie was following every word of each book.

We got to one of my favorites, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.

As I read each page, John’s head was resting on my shoulder. I could feel his breath on my cheek, his hair against my neck.

He was focused on the pictures as I read to him about how Max sailed across night and day and came to the land of the Wild Things.

“And when he came to the place where the wild things are
they roared their terrible roars….”

As I read those words, my sweet boy said, “Rawr!!!!” and my eyes instantly flooded with tears.

He sounded exactly like his Momma had sounded thirty years ago. For a second, it was her breath on my cheek, her soft brown hair on my neck, her shining dark eyes on the page.

Time turned back, in an instant. And I missed my little girl so deeply that I could barely breathe.

But then I heard Johnny tapping his teeth together near my ear. I took a breath, and kept on reading,

“…..and gnashed their terrible teeth
and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”

Isn’t love a funny thing?

Donuts and Martinis


I know what I want my future to look like.

I’m 63 years old. My kids are all adults and the grandkids have started to arrive.

Life is mostly fun and interesting and pretty enjoyable. Most of my body parts work the way they should and I can still take care of myself and my house. I don’t grow as many vegetables as I used to, but I can still weed a flower patch and grow a decent pot of herbs.

My life is on the downward slope of the proverbial hill, but I’m not yet rolling out of control.

So it’s all good.

Because I’m still healthy, happy and fully engaged with the world around me, I continue to work at staying healthy. I eat well, if too much. We live in a part of New England where we can easily buy local vegetables three seasons of the year. I love to can tomatoes and freeze batches of fresh veggies, so all year long we can eat fresh, local food.

We also eat fresh, local meats, eggs and chicken. No nasty chemicals in our meats.

I’m a good Italian cook. too. No preservatives or precooked foods on this lady’s table! No jars of sugar filled spaghetti sauce. No canned soup with all its sodium. Just fresh and home cooked food. Healthy as hell.

I exercise, too. Sort of.

I mean, I’m not sweating at the gym, but I have my garden, my dogs to walk, and my toddler grandkids who spend every weekday here with me. I run up and down the stairs dozens of times a day, chase tricycles, rake leaves while the kids jump in the piles, and cook and serve all day long.

You get it. I’m active.

I also take my medicine just as prescribed. One for blood pressure. One for fibromyalgia. A fish-oil pill for the old brain. Magnesium for the muscles. Papaya extract to increase my platelets.

In other words, as of this moment, I have every intention of staying healthy, staying active, squeezing all the good juice out of life.

I’m at an age where I think it makes sense to try to keep the old heart beating.

But.

My mother is 89 years old. She still lives in the house where she and Dad raised six kids. She’s still funny, stubborn, determined and stoic.

But she is smaller than the huge personality that she used to be. She has closed in. She is thinner, shorter, more stooped and bent. She is the tiny version of her old fiery self.

Mom is less opinionated than she used to be, which is both a blessing and a curse. Life with her is easier than it once was, but I miss my strong-willed warrior woman Momma.

Mom taught me to cook. She taught me how to choose the right spices, how to make the best meatballs, how to be patient while a good stew simmered. Now she lives on frozen foods or the meals that her children bring her.

She can’t really cook anymore.

And my Mom no longer drives. She used to ride her bike around our town, to work at the local school, to Curves, where she worked out and made friends. Now she doesn’t even drive a car. She doesn’t shop, unless one of us takes her for an abbreviated trip to a local store.

Her world is shrinking around her shrinking frame.

Even our house has changed. It was once the hub of our social lives, filled with happy toddlers, kids on bikes, teen aged musicians, neighbors and relatives at every holiday. It was full of noise, delicious smells, loud and laughing voices.

Now the house is neat and quiet. It feels outdated and quaint.

It feels lonely.

One old lady and her old gray cat now live in a house that used to hold a family of 8 and our various dogs and cats.

It makes me sad.

So I’ve made a plan for my future. I think it is a good one. I think it makes sense.

Here is my brilliant plan

From now until my 80th birthday, I have every intention of continuing to take care of myself. I will eat my healthy veggies and monitor my wine intake. I’ll garden, and I’ll walk my dogs. I’ll stretch and use my hot tub to stay limber. There will be no better medical patient than me. Every doctor’s order will be like one of the Ten Commandments.

But on the morning of my 80th day on earth, I will change things up and take my future into my own hands.

I will give up cauliflower and broccoli. No more fish oil pills for me. No walking briskly, no frozen veggies, no organic soaps.

No. Instead, I will have a breakfast of many fresh donuts and as much esspresso as I can swill. Lunch will be martinis and wicked fattening cheese. Maybe some good olives. And bread dipped in tons of olive oil.

I’ll snack on more donuts and finish the day with a pitcher of more martinis. Vodka martinis. Dirty, lemon, pomegranate, chocolate for dessert.

I will lie on my couch all day with donuts on the table, a bag of chips at my feet and a martini in one hand.

If all goes as planned, I will not have to slowly diminish and leave my house sad and lonely. I will not watch myself slowly shrinking and losing everything that has made me myself.

Instead, I will quickly succumb, leaving my children and grandchildren with a fabulous story to tell about me. And I’ll cross that famous rainbow bridge and find myself free of all pain and grief, and ready for the next step.

Good plan, right?

Who’s in?

I Know What’s Wrong With Trump


Let me introduce myself, if you haven’t read my work before now..

I am a retired speech/language pathologist. For more than two decades, I spent every workday diagnosing and treating language disorders. I have helped people with a wide variety of communication deficits. I was very good at my job.

That’s why, in spite of the fact that I’ve been out of the field for several years, I am completely confident when I write that Donald Trump is exhibiting a serious language disorder.

Let me explain.

A deficit in expressing and/or understanding language is called aphasia.The term is most often used in diagnosing people who were not born with the disorder, but who acquire it later in life. Aphasia can be caused by a head injury, a stroke or as a part of a more significant cognitive decline in older adults.

The American Speech/Language and Hearing Association describes aphasia as a deficit in a patient’s ability to communicate effectively in everyday life. It can be variable in its severity, but it always involves a diminished ability to communicate.

One aspect of aphasia impacts a person’s expressive language. This is the kind of language disorder that is more obvious to those who interact with the affected patient. The person struggles to say what they mean. They may have difficulties in expressing ideas logically and specifically They might be seen to be searching for the right word as they speak. Many aphasic people develop an overreliance on empty words and phrases. I have known patients who included a favorite phrase or two into nearly every sentence spoken, as the rote language makes it easier to get out a full thought.

Some aphasic people make up words when they can’t find the one they need. The new word might or might not sound similar to the one that is missing.

People with expressive aphasia sometimes substitute one word or phrase for a similar one (ie, saying “chicken” when they mean “duck” or saying, “off the book” instead of “off the hook.”) Their conversations may seem rambling, with rapid jumps from one topic to another without any explanation. A story can go off on any number of tangents, leaving the listener confused.

Many people with what we call “fluent aphasia” can string together a long series of words that seem to make sense until you realize that there isn’t much content there. There are lots of pronouns and adjectives, but not enough nouns to make the meaning clear.

Aphasia can impact receptive language, or comprehension, as well. Aphasic people may struggle to follow complex conversations. They often misunderstand directions or fail to grasp the meaning of a question they’ve been asked. They find it confusing when more than one person is speaking at a time, or when the topic shifts in mid-conversation.

Some people with aphasia have problems with reading and writing. They may struggle to read anything other than the simplest of texts. Their writing can contain mistakes in syntax, word order or spelling that weren’t seen in the past.

Does this sound familiar to you? It certainly should.

The President of the United States is showing every one of these symptoms.

I’ll give you some examples.

Expressive Aphasia.

The following exchange was part of Mr. Trump’s remarks to the press on August 21.

“Mr. President, are you demanding that the fed chairman lower interest rates?”

“No, I don’t demand it but if he used his head he’d lower ’em. In Germany, they have a zero interest rate and we do compete. Much stronger than Germany but we do compete with Germany. In Germany, they have a zero interest rate. And when they borrow money, when you look at what happens, look at what’s going on over there. They borrow money, they actually get paid to borrow money. And we have to compete with that. So, ah, if you look at what’s happening around the world, Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve have totally missed the call, I was right and just about everybody admits that. I was right. He did quantitative tightening, he shouldn’t have done that. He raised interest rates too fast, too furious. And we have a normalized rate, I, we call it that. And now we have to go the other direction. We’ll see if he does that. If he does it, you’ll see a rocket ship, you’ll see….. And if he doesn’t, we have a very strong economy.”

“But we could have. We could be, we could be in a place that this nation was seldom at if we had interest rates cut by the federal reserve. The Federal Reserve has let us down. They missed the call. They raised it too fast and they raised it too high and they did quantitative tightening and they shouldn’t have done the tightening and they shouldn’t have raised them to the extent that they did. We could have had some raising but nothing like what they did.”

“Mr. President, what happened to your strong appetite for background checks?”

“Oh, I have an appetite for background checks, we’re gonnna be doing background checks. We’re working with Democrats, we’re working with Republicans. We already have very strong background checks but we’re gonna be filling in some of the loopholes, as we call them at the border, and speaking about at the border, it would be really nice if the Democrats would indeed fix the loopholes because it would be really nice. But despite that, I want to thank Mexico. They have 26,000 soldiers at our border and they’re really stopping people from coming in.”

“But what does that have to do with background checks and guns?”

“So what happens is….with background checks….we’re dealing with Republicans, we’re dealing with Democrats, we’re dealing with the NRA, we’re dealing with gun owners, we’re dealing with everybody. And I think we’re gonna have something hopefully that’s meaningful.”

Note the repetition of phrases in this small sample. “We’re dealing with” and “we’re working with” were used over and over, with no description or clarification. Does he mean that he is meeting with those groups, or that he is making deals with them or something else? My impression is the President relies heavily on memorized phrases, which are easy to pull out and use.

Watch any of Trump’s unscripted remarks and try to count how many times he says, “We’ll see what happens.”

Note the word “raising” in the phrase “We could have had some raising.” The meaning is clear, but the word choice is troubling to this language specialist. We would expect the President of the US to say, “We could have had an increase.”

I’m sure you also noticed the rapid and inexplicable jump from the topic of background checks to that of the Mexican army at the border. It’s as if the word “loopholes” triggered a thought of the border crisis for some reason and that thought let made Trump jump completely off the track of the question.

Look at the discussion of Germany. Trump says,

“In Germany, they have a zero interest rate and we do compete. Much stronger than Germany but we do compete with Germany.”

What’s much stronger than Germany? We can make a guess that he’s referring to our economy, but the language of the sentence is clearly abnormal. In English, we don’t use a comparative like “much stronger” without including the referent.

Then there is the repeated phrase “missed the call”. We have a few idioms that are close to this one (“missed the boat” or “missed the mark” come to mind.) But we don’t say “missed the call” unless we mean a phone call. Or we’re referring to a sports referee.

Receptive Aphasia

Do you recall when the President recently met with religious refugees in the Oval Office? The following exchange happened between Trump and a young Yazidi woman.

“All this happened to me. They killed my Mum, my six brothers, they left behind them… “

“Where are they now?”

“They killed them.”

She told him that her family had been killed. He asked “Where are they now?”

He did not have the slightest understanding of what she’d said.

We saw the same lack of comprehension this week when Trump was asked about having second thoughts on his trade war with China.

“Mr. President, do you have any second thoughts about escalating the trade war with China?”

“Yeah. Sure. Why not? Might as well, might as well.”

Once again, he completely failed to understand the question. A question which was then repeated by a different journalist, to which he replied,

“I have second thoughts about everything.”

Did he even understand the meaning of “second thoughts”? I am not at all sure.

Reading and Writing

Donald Trump is well known for his aversion to the written word.

When Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State, spoke about his time at the White House, he said that Trump didn’t like to read. Tillerson was told that the President would not be reading the usual briefing notebook each morning, but instead would only accept bullet points or charts.

Mr. Trump himself has stated that he doesn’t like to read. In an interview with Axios shortly after his inauguration, Trump said that he doesn’t like to read, preferring bullet points to full essays.

“I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.”

Although he is the author of several books, we know that each had a ghostwriter. Trump claims to have attended the best of schools, but has never let his school records be made public.

So.

I say all of this because it brings up the diagnostic question of whether or not the man has always struggled with reading and writing, or whether this is a new phenomenon.

Whether or not that disorder is progressive is difficult to say but when I analyze his conversations from years ago, I believe that it is. His past interviews were far more coherent and much more linguistically sophisticated than what we hear now.

Whether or not the language disorder is developing as part of some type of dementia is up to a neurologist to diagnose.

I am not qualified to say whether or not Donald Trump has a personality disorder or a mental illness. But I am qualified to say that when I listen to him speak, I am increasingly convinced that he has significant aphasia.

What I know is this. Something is most assuredly amiss in the brain of the President of the United States. And he is the one with the nuclear codes.

Big Small


When my kids were little, they used to describe the weird feeling of having a fever as having “big/small”. They said that the world felt small, tucked tight around them. But their hands and feet felt big, as if they were filled with helium.

The strange part is that I knew what they meant. I got it.

Now that I am an old lady with sleep and pain issues, and am a happy user of cannabis at night, I REALLY know what they mean.

The room is small. The sounds are big.

So. I was thinking about all of this bizarre focusing in and out and size changing today. Because I was home on my own all day, and I read, watched and listened to WAY too much news.

My focus on my world was BIG. I was forced to confront a crashing stock market, a raging fire in our Amazonian “lungs of the world” and two new cases of deadly EEE in my state.

The big world is terrifying to me right now.

I am afraid of the ticks (lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis). I am afraid of mosquitoes (West Nile Virus, Triple E). I’m scared of getting a sunburn because my Dad died of melanoma.

But even more scary is the fact that the oceans are rising, the largest forest on earth is on fire, and the Russians are promising to create and deploy a new super weapon.

I can barely force myself to leave my house!

If I shop, I’m afraid of e-coli in my produce. I’m afraid that some pissed off guy with a gun will decide to shoot up my grocery store.

The big picture is freakin’ terrifying.

So I turned my focus inward. I made it smaller.

I rubbed my doggies’ bellies. I walked them through out quiet neighborhood. I chatted with my friend and her beautiful one year old daughter.

Looking at the bright blue eyes of that little beauty, I started to think that all was well. My focus was back on my immediate and beautiful world.

I looked at the flowers in my yard. At the crazy weeds jumping out of the fertile earth. I laughed at the ridiculous pumpkin plant that it now ten feet up in a tree.

It felt safe. I felt comforted.

But then I got home. And looked again at Twitter.

The big came back; the lies and insanity of our President hit me in the face.

I clicked off and scrolled through pictures of my grandchildren.

I thought about my own kids. About how deeply and purely I loved them when they were little, and how much I love them now.

Big focus: My retirement fund is melting before my eyes.

Small focus: My house is clean and calm and comfortable.

Big: The world can’t live through this much climate damage.

Small: My yard is blooming effortlessly, and the grass never went brown.

And so it went, my focus and my fear swinging wildly from the worst to the best of feelings.

The oaks are full of acorns. We may have a cold and snowy winter. But I have a freezer full of corn, beans, peas and carrots.

Social media is full of rage and hate. But my grandchildren, my dogs and the lovely little girl next door are full of unconditional love.

Phew.

I need to learn how to keep my focus on the little things, and keep the big things in my peripheral vision.

PERFECT day


We went to the beach today.

It was the first time since February that I found myself afloat in the Atlantic ocean.

Perfect.

The kids were so excited to be there, even though the waves were a little bit daunting. I was with my daughter and one of her best friends. Two fabulous moms at the beach with their happy, excited, beautiful kids.

The sun was out. There was a gentle breeze. Fish were feeding off shore and terns were diving.

We met families celebrating 4th birthdays, families from abroad, families of young people who were clearly just starting out. There were other grandparents, smiling with joy at their little ones.

There was salt. And sand covered fruit. And the booming of the waves. And the sound of children and gulls screaming together.

It was a perfect day.

I floated. I jumped in the waves. I made sand castles with Ellie and pushed a toy beach buggy down the sand with Johnny. I jumped through the surf with Hazel. I laughed with three little children, and shared my lunch with all of them.

I spent the day with my firstborn child, my amazing and beautiful daughter.

I am undeservedly lucky, and humbled by that fact.

It was one PERFECT. DAY.

Perspective


I was thinking about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib today. I was thinking of her because she isn’t going to visit her grandmother, and that makes me so sad.

I’m a grandmother, too. I love my two grandchildren so much that sometimes I think it might be too extreme. I love their smiles, their hugs, their sweet voices.

I love their hair, and the softness of it against my cheek. I love their deep brown eyes and all the emotion those eyes express.

Being separated from them, even for a week, is a pain that tears my heart.

I live because my children and grandchildren breathe and laugh and sing and because they love me almost as much as I love them.

I can’t begin to imagine how awful it would be to be kept away from them.

So I think of Rep. Tlaib. I think of her “sity”, her 90 ish year old grandmother. I imagine how much the old woman craves the embrace of her beloved granddaughter, and how much Rashida misses her grandmother.

The Congresswoman wanted to travel to Israel/Palestine. She wanted to go to see her family, but also to address the desperately important issue of how the USA’s key ally treats its Muslim citizens. She and her colleague, Ilhan Omar, wanted to have some oversight of the country that receives one third of our foreign aid.

That’s their job, after all.

But Israel, with a push from the Donald Trump, denied them entry. The Israeli government claimed that the two Muslim women, who support and promote the idea of Palestinian autonomy, would be coming only to damage Israel.

Two young women.

And the most powerful country in the middle east was afraid of what they might say.

After a strong pushback from Americans of both political parties and many Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, the government of Israel offered a tepid compromise. Rep. Tlaib could go to see her grandmother, but could not engage in any conversations or activities that would promote the cause of Palestinian activists or criticize the Israeli government. Rep. Omar, lacking a local grandmother, would not be allowed in at all.

Ms. Tlaib rejected the offer, saying that it violated her right to free speech and diminished her role as an elected official of the USA.

“Why doesn’t she just accept Israel’s offer to let her visit under a humanitarian visa?” I thought yesterday, as the story of the Congresswoman’s thwarted visit to her ancestral homeland unfolded.

“Why not just go, and hug her grandmother, and thank her for her years of care and guidance? Why not just brush off Israel’s rules about not mentioning the conditions under which the Palestinians are living? Just go, and don’t be so political!”

But then I started to think. I realized that I was thinking like a grandmother, and not like an educated citizen of the world.

And I remembered a moment that happened to me long ago, in the summer of 1973. I was living as an exchange student with a Muslim family in Tunisia. They were open minded, very well educated and as kind as any family could be.

We were talking about the increasing tensions between Egypt and Israel and the threat of war on the horizon. I said something about Israel, and there was a sudden silence in the room.

My sweet, kind, loving Tunisian Papa said to me, very gently, “Karima, ici on dit Palestine.”

“Karima, here we call it Palestine.”

Not Israel, but Palestine.

That simple phrase opened my eyes.

That land is both. It belongs to both. Both have roots in that place. But the needs and wishes of the Palestinians have long been pushed aside as the west tries to make amends for what happened during the Holocaust.

I understand both sides. I support both sides. I think there is room for both peoples to live in that ancient land.

But I also support Rashida Tlaib in her decision not to go there now. Not to visit her much loved grandmother.

I support her desire to go at a time when she can address the governments of both the US and Israel and say, “Here we call it Palestine.”

It’s Kind of a Miracle


So. I spent all day yesterday travelling.

Woke up at 6:30 AM, Pacific time. Washed up and got dressed. We had packed our suitcases the night before, so all we had to do was toss a few last minute items into our bags.

We didn’t have time for a real breakfast, so my husband and our two friends and I went to the general store at the lodge where we’d been staying. We got our coffees and our slightly stale muffins. We checked out of our place in Yosemite National Park and shoved all of our luggage into the trunk of our rental car.

Katja, Paul and I were passengers, and Katja’s husband Jorg was our driver.

When everyone had a coffee in hand, and everything had been safely packed, we headed out for our four hour journey from vacationland to the airport. We laughed a little and shared photos and talked about our next adventure. Then we all slumped back in our seats and let Jorg maneuver his way through rush hour traffic.

When we finally made our way to San Fransisco, we had to stop for gas, then make our way to the rental car return. When that task was finished, we lugged all of our bags through the car rental building and onto the airport transit.

It was a sad time, saying goodbye to our German friends for at least a year. We hugged and laughed and thanked each other, but all of us were focused on getting ourselves home.

Paul and I grabbed our bags and headed down the escalator, through the building and into the concourse. Ten minutes of walking found us at our departure gate, and we checked our bags and got our seats.

The flight loaded, we flew to Detroit, then we raced across what felt like 50 miles of airport to make our connecting flight, worried the entire time that our luggage wouldn’t make it.

Because we had forgotten to take our car keys out of said luggage, and if we got to New Hampshire while our keys were in Detroit…..well. You can imagine.

But, the bags were checked and we couldn’t uncheck them. We stood in line for our seats, and finally boarded our flight home.

After sitting for what felt like an hour on the tarmac, the plane finally took off. I had my book open on my lap, but I was too nervous to read it.

By now we’d been awake for some 14 hours. We were tired, anxious, and pretty cranky.

And as our plane took off, I thought about how miserable I was. I was sitting in the world’s smallest seat, breathing in stale air and feeling my ears pop.

I was in a skinny metal tube, filled with the exhalations of a hundred other humans who had spent the day eating nothing but cheetos and pre-packaged salami sandwiches. All of us were exuding stale sweat, dirty foot aroma and salami/coffee/cheeto breath.

We were elbow to elbow in a tin can, trying to pass the time by watching videos that none of us could hear over the roaring of the jet’s engines.

I was not happy.

I wanted out.

I wanted out NOW.

I felt my neck muscles cramping as I sat there with my knees raised and my neck bent. I was not a cheery traveler.

But I glanced out the window as the plane rose through the sky. The full moon was out there, seemingly right beside me. Down below, I saw the twinkling lights of an American city.

I felt us rising into the air, and suddenly I found myself remembering the scene in the old “Peter Pan” movie, when the children found themselves magically able to fly.

I felt us rise.

I felt myself rise.

I put my hand to my heart and leaned into the window, watching the lights of Detroit as they faded below me.

“This is a miracle,” I thought.

And it was.

We had woken up in a Yosemite Park lodge, and now we were in Detroit. We were heading home.

In less than one day, in only 15 hours, we had crossed the entire continent. A journey that at one time took a full year had been completed in a little more than half of one day.

It was a miracle.

In spite of the cramped space, the waiting in lines, the dragging of suitcases, the bad food, it was so so worth it.

We can now travel across continents in the time it took our ancestors to cross a township. We can wake up in the middle of a Ponderosa Pine forest and go to bed in a maple grove.

Now our biggest challenge, I think, is to appreciate that reality.

We live in an age of miracles.

Staying Humble


Many years ago, when I was a tender girl of ten, I joined our elementary school orchestra. I had no idea what I was doing, but the idea of an “orchestra” was immensely alluring.

When it came time to choose an instrument, if I remember correctly, I wanted to choose the violin. I loved the idea of being able to create the gentle sounds I’d been hearing on my Mom’s “Nutcracker Suite” album. I wanted that violin.

But alas for me, there were too many girls who wanted to play the violin, so I was assigned to try the viola. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was still a beautiful stringed instrument. I accepted it happily.

And it was love at first screech. During that year of joyful musical exploration, I discovered the glory of harmony. I discovered the power of playing music with friends. I experienced the amazing mind buzz of hitting the rare perfect note.

It was so much fun, and so inspiring, that even 53 years later I can still remember the smell of the resin on my bow. I can remember how cozy it felt to be on our school’s small stage when the curtains were drawn every Thursday. That was when the strings would practice together while the rest of the grade was at recess. I loved those lessons!

I still remember that my viola was number 82, and that the case was lined with purple velvet. I used to rub my thumb along the velvet. So rich! So elegant!

I loved every minute of rehearsal, of practice, or screaking away on my instrument in my bedroom. I loved the full orchestra rehearsals on Friday mornings. I loved our concerts.

I loved it all.

Unfortunately, I had to give up my viola lessons at the end of that year. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for two kids’ music lessons, and it was my sister’s turn to take up the viola. I gave up my beloved number 82 with many tears.

(I still haven’t forgiven my sister, just for the record. Every few months, I call her up and moan piteously.)

Anyway, the years went by. I grew up. I still managed to sing harmony a lot, and I even tried a very brief stint of playing the guitar. But in the back of my mind, all this time, the idea of returning to the viola as been lurking.

So. Recently a good friend of ours took up the saxophone. He’s our age, and not much more musical than I am, but he threw himself into learning his instrument with joy and abandon. He was my inspiration.

I decided to take up the strings and the bow once again.

My younger brother (aka, the musical genius) had a spare violin hanging around his house. I learned that a novice like me should start with the violin and then move on to viola if all went well. I happily took Dave’s violin.

I signed up for lessons.

I rubbed the resin on my bow.

I made hideous zombie noises on my lovely little violin, but I was thrilled. It was all so familiar! So wonderful! I remembered the movements, the feel of the strings, the shiny glorious wood of the instrument!

Huzzah!!!!

Luckily for me, there’s a fabulous local teacher who was undaunted by the specter of an old lady rookie. I went to my first few lessons, learned my scales, practiced my basic fingering.

It has been so much fun!

My teacher, Susan, is endlessly upbeat and joyful. Her smile is the most encouraging thing I’ve ever seen. Even when I continually run my bow across two strings at once, she smiles. When her chickens run out of the yard at the sound, she still smiles, and encourages, and makes tiny adjustments to my wrist.

With Susan I feel like a musician.

So you can imagine how exciting it was for me to arrive at her house yesterday, ten minutes before my lesson time. I took out my instrument, tuned it with my phone app, and resined up my bow.

From the lesson room, I heard the sound of the same familiar song I’d been working on for two weeks.

Not Tchaikovsky, but still, it was a song.

It was someone working on two of the five variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” that are the first lesson in our Suzuki violin book.

That someone was doing OK. A little slow on the fingering, but not bad. The student did hit a few extra strings, (maybe more than I do) but it was still cool to hear it.

“Ah, another novice,” I thought.

As the other student played, I quietly played along on my own. I heard Susan’s voice, as joyful as always. I smiled to myself. “Self,” I told me, “You actually play a little bit more smoothly than this person.” I had an image of another woman, younger than me, but struggling to get the combination of finger placement, bowing and rhythm all correct.

“You’ll get it eventually,” I thought to myself as I smugly packed my instrument back in its case.

I heard the door to the lesson room open, and two women’s voices chatting happily. I made out the word, “Good job!” and “Thank you!”

I stood up, ready to head into my own lesson.

And a teeny, energetic little 6 year old boy came careening around the corner, his mother trailing behind.

“Hi!!!!” he called to me. “I just played my WHOLE SONG!!!”

Susan was still cheerful and smiling when she found me standing with my mouth wide open.

(“violin” by Stiller Beobachter is licensed under CC BY 2.0 )

Yes. Pumpkins CAN Climb Trees


I am a very relaxed gardener. I am very trusting. I believe that nature is uniquely designed to take care of the seeds that we put into the ground.

I mean, seriously. Who am I to challenge the superior wisdom of Mother Nature when it comes to planting a garden?

The result of my calm and serene approach to gardening is the appearance of a very free spirited yard.

For example, my daylilies are mixed up nicely with my goose necked loosestrife, and both of them share space with the tall phlox that I never even dreamed of planting but which arrived via bird poop. There are the mallow plants that came on their own and the coneflowers that I actually placed in the flowerbed.

See?

Loosestrife. Nice.
Phlox (volunteers) and Sundrops (planted, but only two of them!)

It’s all pretty and it smells great and it comes back every year! And…..Mother Nature is pretty much responsible for all of it.

See how relaxed and trusting I am? “Go, Mother Nature! You rock!” I quietly chant under my breath as I sit on the deck with a nice ginger libation.

I trust her.

I sometimes drop a seed or two, or pull out a few weeds. But mostly my yard is in her capable hands.

My pumpkin garden is the most perfect example of what a nice laid back gardener I am.

We have a small fenced off garden area that has gradually become too shady to grow most summer veggies. It’s OK for peas and garlic and a few onions, but not much else. This year, because my grandkids really love pumpkins, I put in a few hills of pumpkin plants.

And now, 8 weeks later, I have a few hills of wimpy, droopy pumpkin plants.

But.

After I planted my few hills, I decided to toss the rest of the seeds out into the woods that encircle my yard. There is one small spot, about 3 ft by 3 ft, where I composted for 25 years. I tossed a few of the seeds out there, too.

The days went by. I forgot about the back woods pumpkins, but was careful to weed and water my “garden” pumpkins.

You can guess what’s coming next, can’t you?

Yep, you got it.

My planted, fenced garden is doing…..ok….ish. There are a few slender vines and some of them hold a couple of limp blossoms. I haven’t seen a future pumpkin yet.

BUT: my compost pumpkins are OUT OF CONTROL! There are huge vines taking over the entire area. There are dozens of blossoms on every vine. There are little newborn pumpkins forming on at least half of those vines.

All without one single bit of effort or attention from this mere human gardener.

Yes. This giant pumpkin vine IS climbing a cherry tree.

So. I am now the proud farming Momma of three giant, tree climbing pumpkin plants.

Whoo hoo!

Whoo hoo???

I’m not convinced that my laissez faire 8 feet in the air pumpkins will live long enough to ripen.

But I don’t want to waste all of this fecundity, do I?

Of course not.

Luckily, I grew up in an Italian family. I know how delicious zucchini blossoms can be. I figured that pumpkin blossoms couldn’t be too far off.

So here I am. Making giant-free-natural-tree-climbing-pumpkin flower fritters.

Looking healthy and fresh, right?

I went out there this morning, into the wilderness of my backyard, and made my way to the compost garden. After pulling aside the humongous crab grass, the maple saplings, the Joe-Pye weed, the Queen Ann’s Lace and the nettles, I grabbed about half of the open blossoms that were spreading across the area.

I brought them inside and cleaned them out a bit. Pulled out the flies, and the stamens. Opened each one into a flat plane. Then I dipped each piece into egg and milk, and tossed them into salted flour. I browned them in olive oil, and added a little more salt.

Holy Yummo.

I ate them all, one by crispy one, with an ice cold glass of white wine.

We might not get any jack-o-lanterns out of this particular airborne patch of pumpkins, but that’s OK.

I had a plate of crisp, salty pumpkin flower fritters.

I trusted Mother Nature and she came through.

And who knows?

Elle and Johnny might just find themselves the very first owners of the original air pumpkin.